Sam Chan delivered a message during a breakout session at The Gospel Coalition’s 2019 National Conference titled, “How to Tell Your Friends About Jesus Without Becoming That Guy.” Many of the things that we believe will help to convince others of the truth of the gospel—such as facts, evidence, and data—are actually the least powerful factors in doing so. Far more powerful are community and experiences. This means the most effective methodologies for helping others to hear and understand the gospel include experiences that merge Christian and non-Christian friends and offer opportunities to listen to and learn from one another. From these things, fueled by prayer, opportunities for gospel conversations will inevitably arise.
The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy.
Sam Chan: My name is Sam Chan. So, I’m short and I’m Asian, so I’m glad they have given me this thing to stand on. In case you were wondering, I was born in Hong Kong. When I was a baby my parents moved to Australia. I’ve lived in Sydney, Australia almost all of my life, but I spent five years living in Chicago. In 1999 to 2004 I did PhD studies at Trinity in Chicago. That means I can choose to be Asian, I can choose to be Australian, and I can choose to be American as well. Now in the Asian and Australian cultures we never big note ourselves. We don’t talk ourselves up. But in the American culture, we do.
So just for one minute I will pretend to be American and I have to big note myself and talk myself up, because I have to tell you this session has been brought to you by Zondervan. Zondervan is my sponsor. This is a sponsored session. I like Zondervan because they took a chance on me.
Three years ago I pitched a book idea to them called Evangelism In a Skeptical World. Even my own mom would not publish this book, but somehow Zondervan took a chance on me. Did Zondervan did just pull the plug on me? Like what … What is going on? Okay, I’ll only say safe things from now. That’s the warning.
So they took a chance. They published this book called Evangelism In a Skeptical World. It won Book of the Year Award by Christianity Today, something like that, in its category. They’re trying to sell it in the book shop and apparently you get a free t-shirt. Here it is. This is what it looks like.
So you get the book and there’s a picture of the free t-shirt you get if you buy the book. It’s heavily discounted as well. I think the value’s been inverted. I think you’re buying a t-shirt and you’re getting a free book with it. ‘Cause as Christians we love free books, so think of it that way. I think they’ve got a mountain there. They don’t want to go home with it, so do them a favor. Get yourself a free t-shirt and get the Christianity Today Book of the Year Award winner. Whatever.
All right, so let’s begin in prayer. Heavenly Father, we do thank you that as Christians we are so concerned about telling our friends about Jesus. Please fill this room with your spirit today. Give us a collective wisdom as we tackle this fantastic subject of evangelism. Thanks for all of this in Jesus’ name, amen.
U2, the rock and roll band, came out to Sydney, Australia maybe about 10 years ago and I thought, “You know what? I’m still young, I’m still hip. Let’s go to a rock and roll concert.” Then I go to the rock and roll concert and say, “Look at it! I’m still rocking it. I’m still young.” And I’m looking around and I thought, “Everyone here is old.” Oh my gosh, they had dad jeans. They’re dad dancing with their arms. They’ve got bellies. They’ve got no hair. And I thought, “This is old man music. When did I become a young man? There are no young people in here” And I’m thinking, “Hey, it’s 10:30! Well, we should wrap this up because tomorrow is a school day.”
Fortunately they started finishing around 10:00 and they went off the stage and I thought, “Okay, we can beat the traffic.” And then someone started yelling, “More! More! More!” And I’m like, “No, no! I want to get home early.” And then they came back on for an encore. It’s like, I thought, “Oh, you’ve done it. See, now we’re here for another half an hour. But I thought, “This is what’s happened. I am an old person listening to old people music. This is not what young people are listening to. And whatever they’re listening to is not what we’re listening to.” And we are feeling the winds of change, aren’t we?
Like the evangelism methods and messages we grew up with just don’t seem to have the same resonance today in the 21st century. We describe the world we live in now as post-Christian, post-reach, post-churched, post everything. The question we’re all asking is, “Well how can I tell my friends about Jesus in this post Christian world?” And that’s what we’re looking at today.
The subject is How Do I Tell My Friends About Jesus Without Becoming That Guy? And everything I’m sharing today presumes the sovereignty of God. Presumes that we need a supernatural working from God. But at the same time, we as humans have to play our part. I remember Tim [Keller] explaining it like, Elijah built the altar. Only God could send the fire. Elijah couldn’t send the fire, but Elijah still had to build the altar. So we still have to play our human means in evangelism. So we’re presuming God’s supernatural agency, but at the same time we have our natural, mundane, human means.
So I’m going to share some tips that have worked for me and my wife in personal evangelism. So we’re not talking about professional evangelism. Things that have worked in personal evangelism. I’ll just share them with you and hope … I’m talking really, really, really fast because I’m hoping we can have time for question and answer afterwards as well. All right, so let me just share tip number one. Tip number one is, we need to merge our universes. Tip number one is merge our universes. What do I mean by this?
Well I want you to imagine if I said this to you, “You won’t believe what happened last week! My wife and I were watching TV when suddenly [inaudible] this UFO landed in our backyard! An alien got out, he invited us into his UFO, so we did. We got in and [inaudible] he took us to his home planet Jupiter and he showed us around to his friends and family. We had a meal with him and we got back into the UFO and [inaudible] and because of the space/time continuum we went through a time portal and only one second of earth time went by.” Who here in this room believes me? All right, so its a minority belief position. So most of you do not believe it.
I’m going to tell you now this story. 2,000 years ago God sent us his son, born of a virgin, 100% God, 100% human at the same time. When he was alive he raised a dead girl back to life, gave a blind man his sight again, more than that he died on a cross for you. If you believe this, God will [inaudible] wash away all your sin and guilt and shame. More than that, he rose for the dead. More than that, his spirit lives in you right now. More than that, he’s in heaven right now and went … depending on which tradition/denomination you belong to, one day in the future he will come again and he will set up a kingdom here on earth. At that moment, your [inaudible] body will rise from its grave and be reunited with your soul.
Who here believes me? Okay, so it’s a majority belief. And now you’re thinking, “Why on earth are you happy to believe the Jesus story but not the Jupiter story?” Because well, let’s face it, they’re both pretty unbelievable. And let’s be honest, the Jupiter story is way more believable than the Jesus story. So then why am I believing the Jesus story, but not the Jupiter story? Because we have this thing called plausibility structures. Plausibility structures are these predetermined, pre programmed set of beliefs … I can’t write and talk at the same time. Plausibility structures and these will prejudge a statement as believable or unbelievable.
So as I tell you the Jupiter story, I say, “A UFO landed in our backyard last night,” you’re pre-programmed, predetermined plausibility structures are prejudging that statement and giving it a red light. Unbelievable, unbelievable, unbelievable. And I say, “We jumped in and went to his home planet, Jupiter.” Red light, red light, red light. Unbelievable, unbelievable, unbelievable. “And we went through a space/time continuum and only second of earth time went by.” Red light, red light, red light. Unbelievable, unbelievable, unbelievable.
But as I tell you the Jesus story you’re pre programmed, predetermined plausibility structures are prejudging the story as believable. Jesus, second person of the trinity, son of God, born of a virgin. Bling, bling, bling. Green light, green light, green light. Believable, believable, believable. Died on a cross for your sins. Bling, bling, bling. Green light, green light, green light. Believable, believable, believable. One day he will come again! Bling, bling, bling. Green light, green light, green light. Believable, believable, believable.
And you think, “Whoa, where do I get these plausibility structures from?” We get them from three main areas; our community, friends and family that we know and trust, our experiences, and facts, evidence, and data. So as I tell you the Jupiter story none of us belong in a community that believes in UFO’s, none of us have had a personal experience of a UFO, and none of us believe there are any facts, evidence, or data for UFO’s. But as I tell you the Jesus story, most of us here belong in a community that also believes in the Jesus story, most of us have had a personal experience of Jesus in our life, and most of us believe there are enough facts, evidence, and data to support the Jesus story. And rightly or wrongly, whether we like it or not, the one that most powerful for determining belief is community and the one that’s least powerful is facts, evidence, and data.
We want it to be facts, evidence, and data, but it’s not. It’s community. The community determines what we choose to believe. So we think it’s facts, evidence, and data, but imagine this; if I said to you, “The UFO is in my backyard right now,” who here could be bothered to make … “It’s only a short trip to Sydney, Australia to check out the UFO in my back yard.” Who here would check it out?
All right, only a handful. So most of you could not be bothered. You could not be bothered to check it out. And lets say you did jump on the plane, you did come to Sydney, Australia, and you saw the UFO. You saw it, you touched it. You’d be going, “No, no, no. This is an elaborate hoax. There’s some other explanation.” We explain away the evidence.
This is what psychologists the dis-confirmation of bias because it does not fit what our community wants us to believe. So why am I saying this? Because typically when we say we’ve got to tell our friends about Jesus, we think we’ve got to go solo. “Okay, I’m going to go out by myself, get the courage, and tell my friends about Jesus.” Or maybe I’m going to sign up for a flag football team, a cooking class, a book reading club and I’m going to tell those people about Jesus. But it’s you’re the one and only schmuck who believes it in the whole room. So I want you to imagine, let’s say I get up here and I say, “I went to Jupiter last week.” I’m unbelievable. It might be a true statement, but it’s unbelievable because I’m the one and only person in the room claiming it.
But let’s say this half of the room’s saying, “Oh my goodness, me too! I went to Jupiter last week. That happened to me. I thought that was you I saw! I just didn’t want to wave just in case it wasn’t you. Now this half of the room, you’re thinking, “This is more believable because half of my community, people I know and trust, also believe the story. Now let’s say the whole room’s saying, “Oh my goodness, I too went on a UFO last week!” And now you’re the one and only schmuck in the room who doesn’t believe in the Jesus … I mean the Jupiter story. You’re thinking, “This is way more believable.”
This is why the Apostle Paul says, “I’ve seen Christ risen from the dead. Not just me, the other Apostles. Not just them, but 500 other people that you know, love, and trust and you can talk to them right now. They’ve also seen Christ risen from the dead. See, Christ risen from the dead is true whether you choose to believe it or not. It just happens whether you want to believe it or not. But whether you choose to believe it or not depends very much on the community that you know, love, and trust. So what that means in our evangelism, we have to deliberately merge our universes so that our non-Christian friends get to meet our Christian friends. So typically as Christians we have two universes of friends; our non-Christian universe and our Christian universe.
So the non-Christian friends, we’ll go over to have a barbecue, we go by ourselves. Our Christian friends have a barbecue, we go by ourselves. Our non-Christian friends go off to a movie, we go with them. Our Christian friends go to a movie, we go with them. What we need to do is when our non-Christian friends have a barbecue, we bring some of our Christian friends along. When our Christian friends go off to the movies, we bring some of our non-Christian friends along and merge our universes.
So I used to live in an apartment with three other junior doctors, all three of them were not believers. But because I lived in that apartment, all of my church friends used to hang out in the apartment and bit by bit they met my Christian friends and they became friends. So whenever my Christian friends went off to the movies, I invited my three non-Christian doctor friends along. Whenever my non-Christian friend … doctor friends went off to, say, have a barbecue, I invited my church friends along. After two years, we merged our universes.
It’s a long term plan. It takes two years to form a new network of trusted friends, but after two years we merged our universes. And after two years all three of my friends started coming to my church. And all three gave their lives to Christ because it became way more believable. So what we can do is be proactive. So I remember when I was single, this used to happen to me all the time. I’d get invited to a dinner, thinking I’m getting invited to a dinner, and I turn up and go, “It’s happened again. They’re trying to match me up.” Because there is a married couple, there is a married couple, there is a married couple. Oh look, there’s a girl all by herself and here’s me all by myself. And look, they’re sitting us together. Look, they’re trying to match us up.
So my wife and I now, we try to match our non-Christian friends with our Christian friends. We go, hey so and so, they would really get on well with this Christian friend. So we’ll have barbecues, we’ll have dinners, and we’ll deliberately try to merge our universes. It works best if in the universe one third are non-Christians and two thirds are Christians. That’s a really good ratio that we found works. Also, in our transient culture, most people don’t have a trusted network of friends anymore. So my wife and I, we say, have you noticed something? All of our non-Christian friends have only moved into Sydney in the last two to five years. They actually have no network of friends.
I’m listening to a lot of Ted Talks and Podcasts right now and they’re saying loneliness is the new health epidemic in the west. Sixty to eighty percent of Caucasian westerners say they are lonely. They say it’s just as likely to kill you smoking 16 cigarettes a day. It’s twice as likely to kill you as obesity and high blood pressure. And they don’t know how to get themselves out of loneliness. So apparently we need an inner circle; five, maybe 15, friends. These are the friends that you hang out with on a Friday night. These are the friends you ask for a favor. These are the friends that will help you move house. No one has that network anymore.
So it’s actually really, really easy to position yourself into someone’s network and say … and start being that inner circle of five and introducing other Christian friends into that inner circle of five or 15. So that’s a first tip; merge our universes. I’ve heard people saying, “Oh, you’re just doing friendship evangelism.” And I think, “Well what’s wrong with that? When did that become a bad thing?” So somehow I’ve worked out in the USA, that’s a tribal, badge marker. Well you get just labeled friendship evangelism. But it’s actually more than friendship evangelism. It’s friendships evangelism. You’re getting your friend, your non-Christian friend, to make lots of Christian friends, not just so.
All right, so that’s tip number one. Second tip them is, well then how do I merge these universes? How do I make this happen? Well, tip number two is coffee, dinner, gospel. Coffee, dinner, gospel. Because the task of evangelism is too overwhelming, it’s too big, it’s too global. Where do I begin? We’ll break it down into baby steps. Coffee, dinner, gospel. It’s like at home when the dishes are just piled up. It’s too much. It’s too, where do I even begin? And my wife will say to me, “Relax, break it down into baby steps. Here’s a fork. Start with a fork. Here’s a cup. Move to the cup.” And bang, bit by bit, the dishes are done!
Same with evangelism. It’s too big, it’s too global, it’s too overwhelming. Break it down into concrete, baby, achievable steps. Instead of asking, “How can I do evangelism?” Just say, “How can I do coffee with this person?” Because coffee is an easy invitation. It’s only 10 or 20 minutes. It’s public space, so the conversation is going to be light and easy and inoffensive. Once you’ve done coffee a few times, try to do a meal. Lunch or dinner. Dinner is a bigger invitation. It’s private space. It’s one or two hours, but private sacred conversations will start to happen and gospel opportunities will emerge. And see, what we’ve got to understand is how conversations work. There’s three layers to a conversation. On the outside layer, like layers of an onion, is interest. The middle layer is values. And finally the middle core layer is world view.
So conversations always begin with interests. Like, “How blue was the sky,” because that’s an imperial statement. You’re not going to get in a fight over that. “The sky is not blue!” “Yes it is!” So, “How blue is the sky?” Or, “How about them Tigers, hey?” And, “What are you doing the weekend?” Because you ain’t getting into fights over those conversations. But bit by bit there will be values sort of conversations like James Bond movies are better than romantic comedies. NCAA is better than NFL. Stuff like that. Where are you going to send your kids to school? Then there will be world view conversations. What is real? Is there life after death? Do you pray? Is there a God? Are we essentially good or evil?
So conversations always begin out here, light and fluffy because they’re inoffensive. We’re just looking for common ground, so there’s a bit of sparring. Like can we get on? Can we get on? Can we find some sort of emotional connection? That’s what coffee is good for. When we start doing dinner we notice the conversations start moving into values and bit by bit we’ll get world view conversations and gospel opportunities will emerge. So one way of simply … It’s basically the art of conversation. The art of conversation. Bit by bit, if they feel safe in this layer, they will invite you into the next layer. And if they feel safe in this layer, they will invite you into the next layer.
Chaplains tell me they will give you three hints, three hints to come in with them. If you miss it, then they go, “Okay, this person’s not interested,” and they retreat back out here. “How blue is the sky? How about them Bulls?” And, “What books are you reading lately?” But we if we hear the hint, we can come in with them and then come in with them. And then another ways we can invite ourselves in, just simply by asking questions. “How do you feel about that? How do you feel about that?” And, “Why is that important to you? Why is that important to you?”
So you can ask them, “What did you do on the weekend?” And they say, “I played pick up basketball.” And then you can go, “Oh wow, why is that important to you?” And they say, “Well, I’m trying to stay healthy.” That’s a value statement. And then you say, “Why is that important to you?” And they might say, “Well, you only live once, so I’m trying to maximize how much happiness I can get in this life.” And bit by bit we invite ourselves in to these conversations. So really what we’re trying to do here is find ways to get people from public space into private space. From secular space into sacred spaces. So my wife and I often do this through hospitality. We say, “Hey, we’ve got to have front yard conversations and backyard conversations.”
So typically in my street around 4:00 p.m. all of the men start watering their lawn with a hose. We could use a sprinkler, couldn’t we? But no, it’s got to be a hose because that gets us out of the house and out of all the house duties around 4:00 p.m.. Which is, you know, arsenic hour for children, isn’t it? You’ve got to bath them, feed them, whatever. So all of us are clustered out in the front yard, we’re watering our lawns, and then one of them will break out a six pack of beer. So that’s coffee, isn’t it? So now we just say, “Well how blue was the sky today?” “Yeah, how blue was the sky?” “How about them Bulls?” “Yeah, how about them Bulls?” “What are you plans for the weekend?” “Yeah, what are your plans for the weekend?”
After a while the wives come out and go, “Hey, what’s going on? Can we join you?” So they break out the wine. Then all the women and men are out front, we’re having front yard conversations, now dinner’s not going to happen. All right? Dinner’s not going to happen. So we say, “Hey, let’s get some take out pizza and come back to our place.” And all the friends is now coming to our backyard and our living room and bit by bit value, world view, gospel conversations will begin to occur.
My wife and I live in a lot of universes. We … Right now we’re in a fortunate phase of life where we have a lot of non-Christian friends. It’s all about recognizing the phases of life. You know when you’re in elementary school you have a handful of friends, “Hey, we have the same favorite color!” “Yeah! Let’s be friends!” In high school, you make more friends. In college you’ve got lots of friends now; 100 to 200. Then you get married and you have no friends. No one wants to hang out with you. And you don’t want to hang out with them either. You become that guy. You become really boring. I love it when you’re married and think, “I’m not going. I don’t want to go. Do we have to go to the birthday party? Will I be the only guy there? I’m not going if it’s only women.
And then you think when you were single at college, had you found out there was a party where you were the only guy there and it was all going to be women you would go, “I am there!” But somehow when you’re married, “I don’t want to go out. I’m boring.” Then you have kids. You have kids and your kids makes friends and some of you make friends with their parents and [inaudible] we’re up there again! And we know it’s for a short phase, don’t know? Because when our kids hit high school they don’t want to know us and that, so we’ve only got a small window right now and we’ve got quite a lot of universes of friends.
So we’ve got the after school swimming lesson universe of friends. We have the Saturday sports standing on the sideline cheering your kids on universe of friends. And we have the parents play ground universe of friends. The swimming lesson one isn’t really working because it’s public space and you’ve only got five minutes. The Saturday universe of friends wasn’t working … the Saturday sports one wasn’t working for a while, but it’s improved. So maybe we can explain why in question and answer time, but basically it’s public space. You’re just yelling at your kids anyway. You’re not really having private sacred conversations. But the play group universe, it’s coffee. You begin at 10:00 a.m. with coffee and the parents unwind. And then my wife will say, “Hey, want to come back to our place for lunch?” So now you come back for lunch, you’re in private space. And then my wife will say, “Hey, do you want another coffee?”
Now it’s 4:00 and then I come home from work, they’re still there, and my wife will say, “Hey, do you want to do dinner?” And then we do dinner. So we have found in that group we’ve had a lot of fruit from that. Bit by bit they start coming to church with us. Bit by bit they put themselves on the rosters. Rosters are actually evangelistic. Churches just need to find inventive of finding roster where we’re putting Christians on the morning tea roster, the bulletin folding up roster, the chair set out roster, and they love it. They find belonging, they find behavior, and soon they find belief. So belonging, community is very important. Getting people into private spaces. So what we’re really arguing for here is creative ways to do hospitality. Creative ways to do hospitality.
I had never noticed how frequent hospitality was in the Bible until now. It’s like growing up as an Asian, I never used to notice roof racks on cars because Asian parents don’t buy roof racks. Asian parents don’t need roof racks. They don’t surf and they don’t camp, so why would they need to get roof racks? Because Asians don’t get camping. They reason why they make you study hard and get a college degree is so you don’t have to live on the ground. So they think, “Why would you do that? Why would you do that?” Anyway, since then I’ve had to buy roof racks and I’ve noticed they’re everywhere! Every cars got a roof rack. There’s silver ones, black ones, square ones, round ones. Since I’ve started looking for the hospitality, it is everywhere in the Bible. The word appears in almost every New Testament writer, but the idea appears even more.
So we’ve concentrated on the word gives; preaching, teaching, evangelism, but hospitality’s in the Bible because it creates the space and the permission and the capital where the word gives can flourish. So if we want to know how to do evangelism in a post-Christiandom world, it’s actually hospitality. And we need to find creative ways to do hospitality, because for many of us these things are impossible. I work with City Bible Forum. I have an evangelism ministry in the business districts of Australia. We tell all of our workers coffee, dinner, gospel. Coffee, dinner, gospel and they’re seeing a lot of fruit with that. But these days in the city’s people are trying to get to work early. They work through coffee break, they work through lunch, so they can leave early, beat the traffic, pick up the kids from childcare. So we say, “You’ve just got to be creative in how you do coffee, dinner, gospel.” Creative means of hospitality.
So things like, “Hey, who wants to go for a coffee break?” Nah, no one wants … “Well, how about I do the coffee run?” “Okay.” “Well, what do you want?” You take the orders, you come back, as you hand them the coffee you say, “Hey, it’s on me. My treat.” And they go, “Really?” “Yeah, my treat.” Because hospitality costs time and money. It’s a form of generosity. Then as you hand them their coffee, they’re going to have to talk to you. You just paid for their coffee. “Hey! How blue was the sky? How about them Bulls? Hey, what are your plans for the weekend?” Then you can do a lunch run. “Hey! Hey, hey, who wants to do lunch?” “Nah, nah, nah. I’m working through lunch.” “All right, all right. Well how about I run down the shops, I’ll come back with a sandwich.” “All right.” “What’s your order?”
Come back, “My treat. On me. On me.” And as you hand them that now you a 10 or 20 minute conversation where you can ask a bit more. “How’s the family? How’s your kid in high school? How are things really going?” And bit by bit you earn some social capital, some trust, some empathy. So creative means of doing hospitality. Number three is learn the art of listening. We’ve learned the art of conversation, but how can I listen? So number three … We always say, “Well how do I tell them about Jesus?” Well the first thing is ask for their story first.
So often, because of my public ministry, I have to catch planes, catch Ubers. Ubers fantastic. You just push a button, they turn up, the car is clean, the driver is friendly. But if you want the five star rating in Australia, you have to sit in the front seat and make conversation and it’s like a slow moving train wreck. I can just see it coming. I can predict it. It’s like a chess game. I will ask them the same questions, how long have you done an Uber? How are you enjoying it? What did you do it before Uber? And then they will say, “What do you do?” And I’m like, “Okay.” It’s like a bandaid, you just rip it off quickly. I mean, full time professional Christian ministry. “I tell people about Jesus.” [inaudible] Awkward, awkward because we were meant to talk about the sky, weren’t we? We were meant to talk about the sport. But now we’re in private, sacred space way too early.
So people have taught me, ask them a question. Like, “Do you have a faith?” Because that’s quite a safe, descriptive question. Or even safer is, “What religion did your parents raise you with?” Because that’s non-judgmental now. It’s a descriptive, fact based statement. What religion did your parents raise you with? Or, do you have a faith? And now you get them talking where they’re coming from and you start asking them questions. They may say, “I’m a Buddhist.” And you say, “Wow! How did that happen? Tell me.” So at that moment, they are the image of God. They’re the most interesting person you are meeting today. You go, “Wow! Tell me more,” and get them talking. “How do you pray? What do you do in the temple? How do you raise your children? Were your parents Buddhist? Is your husband a Buddhist? Tell me more.”
Or if they’re an atheist, go, “Wow! Tell me about that. Were you always an atheist? Were your parents atheist? Tell me more.” All you’re trying to do is listen and listen properly. My friends who do counseling say there are three forms of listening. First form of listening is where you’re just listening, waiting for your turn to talk so you’re not really listening. Second form is you’re listening, but you’re waiting to tell them why they’re wrong. You know like, “Buddhism is wrong.” Or, “Atheism is wrong.” And, “No, not all religions are not is the same.” So you’re just waiting to debate them. But the third form of listening is where you’re actually really listening to hear where they’re coming from. My counselor friends say he’s learned this technique where every time there’s a pause in the conversation, and it’s probably your turn to talk, you just get a cup and put it to your mouth and start drinking from it. It’s a nonverbal sign to say, “Buddy, I’m not talking. You’ve got to keep talking.” And I thought, “Wow! I remember when I was seeing a counselor and she did that to me all the time.”
Every time I wanted her opinion, she would take a drink. And I thought, “I so know what you’re doing.” But I would keep talking. This little voice in my head would say, “Stop talking. You’re giving her way too much information. Now she knows you’re crazy.” But I could not stop talking. So when you get them talking, talking, talking and we’re just trying to hear, understand, and feel. So men, it’s everything you were taught in pre-marriage counseling. Remember every time you have a conflict with your wife, hear, understand, feel. When she says, “You’re not doing the dishes.” You just got to repeat her words back at her, “From what I hear you saying I’m not doing the dishes.” Then you summarize her words into your words to show you’re performing some sort of higher analytical synthetic thought, you’re not just parroting the words.
“I understand. I’m not doing my share of the housework.” Then you say, “Oh that must make you feel,” blank; just guess an emotion. And it’s always going to be anger. “That must make you feel so angry.” And tick, just like that, conflict resolved. My wife said, “Oh if I catch you doing that to me, I’ll be so angry.” And I said, “From what I hear you saying …”
“So I was on a plane, I sat down, before I could get the headphones on my head, which is the international symbol for, “Do not talk to me,” the guy next to me talked to me. And oh here we go. “Why are you flying? Is it work or play?” “Work.” “What are you doing?” “Okay, I’m in full time professional Christian ministry. I give talks about Jesus from the Bible. Do you have a faith?”
And he said when he was growing up in South Africa he checked out Christianity and that’s when he found out it was a front for hate crimes against gay people. And I went, “Wow! Tell me about that. Tell me about that journey.” And I let him go for 90 minutes; like monologue 90 minutes. And at the end I said, “From what I hear you saying,” and, “I understand this,” and, “That must make you feel this way. Have I heard you correctly?” Then I said, “Would you like me to respond?” He said, “Yes.” And because I let him go for 90, he let me go for the rest of the plane ride. Then he said, “Thank you so much. You made that flight go so quickly.” And I thought, “Oh not for me it didn’t.” Yeah. But you know, social convention, if you let someone … If you ask someone how their weekend was, you let them go for a minute, they have to respond. Say, “Well, how was your weekend?” And they will give you minute … You can let them go for 10 minutes, they will let you go for 10 minutes.
So the art of evangelism is let them talk as much as you can and they feel heard and sort of felt. Then if they trust you, that’s the number four thing in conflict resolution, what can I do to win your trust? If they trust you, then they will now let you share your faith and you know exactly where they’re coming from. So maybe number four, what I do is I’ll send with this one and we’ll open up question and answer time, learn to tell a better story. And I’m learning this from … I’m stealing the title from a book by Glen Harrison, who’s a UK Christian psychiatrist, who it says, “One of the reasons why we’ve sort of lost the debate is we haven’t been telling a story better than what the secular storyline is right now. And I think a lot of evangelism was very well contextualized for the 20th century, but the secular storyline of the 21st century is different from what our parents had in the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s. So we had a really well contextualized storyline for the 20th century, but we can find other well contextualized storylines for the 21st century. Tell a better story.
So what I usually like to do when they say, “Well, can you explain Christianity to me?” I say, “Let me tell you a story about Jesus.” Take people right down to Jesus and pick your favorite story about Jesus. Lately my go to story is Jesus turning water into wine, because no one knows what to do with that story. Especially the Christians don’t know what to do with that story. Because I tell them the story and I say, “You know, in the original Greek the reason why they run out of wine was they were drunk. The guests were drunk.” And NIV just softens that to, “They’ve had enough.” But no, no. They were drunk. Then Jesus gives them more wine. You and I would not do that. We would recommend the water or the OJ wouldn’t we? And then, “I think you’ve had enough to drink.” But Jesus gives them more wine. He would lose his liquor license, Jesus, if he was in the USA. So he gives them more wine, more good wine, and too much more good wine. So I say to people, “Why would Jesus do this?” And they have no answer.
I say, “Well there are many reason, but one good reason is he was actually just trying to give an image of what life with Jesus would be like.” This is his image of like with Jesus in this life and the life to come. So if you think by following Jesus you will miss out, you’ve got it wrong. By not following Jesus, you will miss out. I’ve found with Australians, maybe it’s the same as the USA, 30% of Caucasians will have this story when you ask them, “Do you have a faith?” And they’ll say, “Yeah, I grew up in the Catholic faith, but I don’t believe anymore. Now for me it’s all that spirituality. I think all religions are the same. I just go once or twice a year just to keep my parents happy.” I’m talking about non-practicing Catholics now, so I’m not talking about practicing Catholics.
So when I say, “What’s it like when you go to Catholic Mass service with your parents?” And 99% of the time they go, “It’s so dry. It’s just a ritual, but I can’t find any meaning in it.” I said, “Yeah, that’s because when you go to your church you’ve got a dead body on the cross, you guys are actually running a funeral. That’s why it feels like a funeral. I said, “Come to one of our services. The cross is empty. He’s alive! And the primary image for Jesus is the wedding banquet. Food, drink, singing, dancing. That is what life with Jesus will be like. That is why he chose that as his image.” And I said, “Did you know that people used to complain to Jesus, how come you don’t fast and pray all of the time, but you and your followers are just eating and drinking all of the time?” And Jesus’ answer was, “The bridegroom’s here. The bridegroom’s here. Now is the time for a party. Food, drinking, singing, dancing.”
So I say to people, “This is what life with Jesus will be like.” And then I ask them, “What do you think people become Christians?” And they say, “You want your sins forgiven and you want eternal life in heaven.” And I go, “Whoa! No, no, no that is just the start of it. If that’s what you think it’s about, let me tell you what it’s really about.
Yes, your sins are forgiven. Yes, you get eternal life in heaven. But you know the primary blessing?” And I’m quoting John [inaudible] Cross of Christ here, so I’m being very kosher all right? And he says, “Foundational salvation blessing is union with Christ. Central lay is justification, sins forgiven. But the top layer is adoption. It’s shalom. It’s peace. My neighbor is a Muslim and I said to him, “Do you know what the Bible says?” I said, “You know, when I got married to my wife Steph, I didn’t know what to call her dad. So I call him Mr. Tam. That’s too formal. We’re family now. I can’t call him Anthony, that’s too informal. I’m meant to call him dad.” Even after 22 years I’m not used to calling him dad and he’s not used to me calling him dad, but I said, “Did you know God the father wants us to call him dad? And because it feels so weird the Bible says he puts a spirit in us that says Abba.
Now us English speakers don’t get that. We don’t get that. But in every country, every tribe, every tradition, the first sound a kid makes is [inaudible] and we arbitrarily say, “Okay, that’s the word for dad.” Then their second sound is [inaudible] and we’ll say, “Oh yeah, that’s the word for mom.” That’s why in French it’s Papa. In Cantonese, my mother tongue, it’s Baba. In Aramaic it’s Abba. I said to him, “We call dad Abba.” My Egyptian neighbor, Muslim neighbor, just went, “That’s what I called my dad.” I go, “Yes!” The rest of the world sees God as creator, maker, judge. We call him dad. And I said to him, “Do you know what? Every night my seven year old son [inaudible] climbs into my bed at 2:00 a.m. He crawls in between my wife and me and he snuggles his head right on my chest there and I say, you know what? He can do that because I’m he’s dad and he’s my son.
You can’t do that, right? I love you, but you cannot do that. And I said, “But what … God is our dad. That’s the intimacy, the blessing.” My Muslim neighbors eyes are just like lighting up. Then I said to him, “Tell me about your Muslim faith.” So he describes it, describes it. Okay, let me tell you something. I said, “You can never be true Muslim can you? Because you can’t speak Arabic. The Koran is untranslatable, it has to be read in Arabic. So you’re English translation is not the true Koran. You haven’t gone to Mecca yet have you?” So I said, “Did you know every major world religion asks you to convert to it’s culture of it’s founding father? So if you want to be true Muslim, you’ve got to be Arabic. If you want to be Buddhist, you’ve got to become Asian.” I said, “Christianity is the opposite.”
The first claim is God became flesh. He came to us. So in our culture, in our tribe, in our language we can worship and know him. We don’t go to Mecca, Mecca comes to us. And then I said, “And look at those children’s Bibles there, my boys are reading that and it’s the word of God in children’s English. You can actually read the word of God in your mother tongue. So we’ve just got to learn new and additional ways of telling a better story. And I said to him, “You know what? My boys read their Bible every day. Would you like to read the Bible with me?” And he has said yes. We just started last week. We read John 1 for the first time. But it’s all about trying to tell a better story. All right, I have gone on for long enough. I’ve got like 30 extra points I want to give you and they are all found just in chapter two of my 10 chapter book. So you thought today was good? This is just the tip of the iceberg of chapter two in a 10 chapter book.
Sam Chan: Yeah so the question was, the Chaplain said people give you a hint that they want you to come into the next layers. What are those hints? Well it’s simply that they want to take the conversation deeper. So one time I was at a dinner with a friend and he drops into the conversation, “My mother died this year,” and I missed it. Then he says it later, “My mother died this year,” and I missed it. And he said, “My mother died this year,” and I missed it. Then now we’re talking about the blue sky and how about them Bulls and what are you doing on the weekend? On the car drive home my wife said, “Do you think he wanted you to ask about his mother.” So that’s all it takes to take it to the next level. So psychologists and counselors have these questions; how do you feel about that? Why is that important for you? What are you hoping for? So when he said, “My mother died this year,” I should have said, “How do you feel about that?” That would’ve given us permission to come into the next layer.
One of the tips that I give, which is not in the book because it’s a new tip is, we’re actually trying to position ourselves as defacto Chaplains in their lives. We earn their trust to become defacto Chaplains and all we have to do to do that is take an interest in their lives. So know the names of their kids, remember what they did on the weekend, and the next time we see them follow up. “So how is Daniel doing in high school?” “How was the weekend dinner with your parents?” Then follow them. Then bit by bit, sooner or later, ask the question, “How do you feel about that?” And that’s your permission to let them come in deeper. One of my ideas is according to Genesis 3 through 4, everything is cursed. Work is cursed, our health is cursed, and our relationships are cursed. So no one is having a good time at work. No one is happy with their bodies or their health. And no one’s relationships are going okay, because that’s what Genesis 3 promises.
So when we ask people, “How was the weekend?” They always say, “It was great!” And all we have to do is say, “Really? Well how was it really?” And then they’ll say, “You know what, it wasn’t. The uncle turned up and we don’t get along.” “Oh wow. How does that make you feel?” And bit by bit we earn their trust as a defacto Chaplain. I have a friend who worked in the Army as a Chaplain. They were deployed in Afghanistan. A lot of tragedy, so my friend has to run funerals, give talks, and finally the commanding officer who’s not a believer, who’s an atheist one day asked my friend Craig, he says, “Come into my office. Close the door behind you. Can you pray for me?”
All of my friends Chaplain say that’s exactly how it works. They don’t believe in God, but there will be a moment where they need you to be the voice of God. A voice, a connection with a transcendent, a word of wisdom, something that makes sense of everything that’s going on in their life. They will come to you. I have a friend called Pierre; he and his wife do the coffee, dinner thing with a work friend. Finally the work friend, her mother died and there was a funeral. They needed someone to say something at the funeral and give a prayer. So they asked my friend Pierre to pray at the funeral. Then their son, who’s only six wanted to know, “Is grandma in heaven or hell?” So they get the son to ring up my friend Pierre and they make it an open family conference call and everyone is listening to what Pierre is saying. Pierre answers very wisely, very pastorally.
Then I said to Pierre, “Can you see what happened? You became their Chaplain. You were their voice of God, their connection with the transcendent. Someone who will give wisdom and meaning in an event where they had no answer for what was going on. So what I like to do with my work friends is say … You know, you ask them, “How’s so and so?” “Oh they’re fine. They’re going to high school.” “Okay, okay.” Next time, “How was their first day at high school?” “Oh, you know …” And then, “How was it really? How does that make you feel?” Then I say, “My wife and I pray. Can I pray for you tonight?” And they always say, “That would be wonderful if you could.” So even if they’re non-believers, if you show you care and you offer them a connection with the transcendent at that moment they’ll go, “That would be wonderful if you could pray.” Then that opens up an opportunity to follow up.
So I work one day a week as a doctor. As a very, very low doctor on the bottom of the hierarchy. So I hang around with all of the wards man and all the cleaners, so I learn all of their names. So as I sit in the tea room, they’ve started coming to me and sharing with me their faith journey’s. I’ve become their defacto work Chaplain. So bit by bit we’re … So on the street we had a tragedy; a young boy died. The neighbors come to my wife and me for a voice of wisdom. Se we become the defacto Chaplain. So my friend advised me that for Saturday sport … You think for Saturday sport you drop your kids off, they’re going to look after your kids for two hours, you can run off have a coffee, read the paper. No! They’ll find a way to put you on a roster. You’re on the barbecue roster. Maybe you have to do this. You’re the water buck roster. You think, “This is sucked me in like a vortex. It’s my universe now.” And a friend at work said, “Yeah, don’t fight it. It’s like an undertow; embrace it. Let it take you and now you will become the Chaplain on the team.” Bit by bit you will talk to people.
I say, “Well how are things going? How are things really going? How do you feel about that?” And they start coming to you to be the Chaplain in their lives. So the Saturday sport thing has become quite rewarding as well. We identify the Christians and we try to merge our universes in Saturday sports.
Okay, yes, another question. Okay. So the question is … I’m a professional evangelist, so it’s really easy when they say, “What do you do for work?” And I say, “I tell people about Jesus.” And that’s a really easy segue into the Gospel. What do you do if that’s not your area? Is that what you’re asking?
Audience: Or if they ask you a question that you cannot answer, what do I do? I think you just got to be true and authentic and real because they can smell fear. They can smell that you’re making things up on the run.
Sam Chan: So I think just be real and honest. Say, “You know what? I have exactly the same struggle myself. I’ve asked that same question, but …” And then I always try to find common ground with the Bible. But you know what? You have asked the same question that the Psalmists asked and the Prophets asked and the people in Revelation asked. You’ve asked a legitimate question that the people of God themselves asked in the Bible. And if I don’t have the answer I’ll just [inaudible] say, “Wow!” Then I might say, “How do you feel about that?” Yeah.
So I … There’s a pastor in professional Christian ministry, but he works. He’s by vocational, so at work they’re always grilling him. So has an answer. “Are you Christians homophobic? Aren’t you irrational? Aren’t you anti-science? How can your God allow suffering?” So he’s giving really good answers, he’s in professional Christian ministry, but he’s always [inaudible] on the defensive. They just … They don’t care. They actually don’t care what your answers are. They’re just trying to fire things at you. He’s like, “Why am I always on the back fall? Why can’t I ask them a question?”
He found out all of his non-Christian friends there were only two why questions from not being able to give an answer. Like, “It’s all about human equality.” “What’s human equality mean? How do you define it? Why is that important? Why? Why?” Do you know what I mean? So they’re … So anyways, his friends can’t answer the most basic questions. So part of it then is just not being combative, but realize every now and then it’s nice to ask your friends why. Or just, “How do you feel about that?” And bit by bit they’ll realize, “You know what? I have no foundation. I have no answer either myself.
You know, I think we’re … There’s no answer here, but I was told 50 minutes. So maybe one more. One more. Yes. The question is, how do I get to this point where I can do this? I think the answer is we all have different giftings, right? But the amazing thing was English was not my first language. I used to mumble in high school. I think I just … Maybe a lot of experience? I’m older than I look. I’m 52, so I’ve had 30 years of doing this. Maybe that’s what it is? I’ve been doing this for 30 years and every time you’re asked a question you can’t answer, you go home and you think, “How about I try this answer next time?” So that’s what it is. So I think I’ve had 30 years of being asked questions I couldn’t answer, so now I do have an answer. Maybe that’s what it is. Just putting myself out there. It’s what the start up entrepreneurs say, “You’ve got to have the freedom to fail and be happy to fail.” Or maybe that’s what it is.
I have a friend who works in evangelism with me and he’s said, in the secular work space they actually expect rejection. They expect failure and they just move on. That’s normal. But as Christians we’re worried about rejection. We’re worried about failure. But just to know what to do when that happens.